Neurosurgeon Eric Leuthardt’s research often has been described as science fiction brought to life. But in his latest project, his experiences in the laboratory and the operating room have inspired him to write a futuristic thriller.
Leuthardt, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery and of biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is working to develop brain implants known as neuroprosthetics that detect brain signals and relay them to a computer. He hopes to use the technology to restore movement, speech and other functions in people suffering from stroke.
On the literary front, Leuthardt, director of the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology, is publishing a novel – his first – that extrapolates from his knowledge of and experience with computers and the brain to create a techno-thriller set four decades in the future. The novel, “RedDevil 4,” envisions a world where brain implants permeate every level of personal and social interaction as cellphones do today. One of the protagonists, Dr. Hagan Maerici, is a St. Louis neurosurgeon on the verge of creating the world’s first artificial intelligence. He becomes entangled in a series of brutal murders committed by prominent citizens with no discernable motive for their violent actions.
Maerici and a pair of detectives suspect the crimes represent some bizarre neurologic syndrome that could involve their neuroprosthetics. They must race to solve the mystery before others are killed.
Leuthardt, who treats patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, never has been involved in a murder case. But his research into interfaces that link the brain and computers has given him unique insights into some of the many social, ethical and legal challenges that may arise as this technology develops.
For example, in 2011, Leuthardt and his colleagues announced that temporary brain-computer implants could detect when participants were saying or thinking of a particular speech sound or phoneme.
“We want to take this further and see if we can not just detect when you’re saying dog, tree, tool or some other word, but also learn what the pure idea of that looks like in your mind,” he said at the time. “It’s exciting and a little scary to think of reading minds, but it has incredible potential for people who can’t communicate or are suffering from other disabilities.”
“RedDevil 4,” published by Tor/Forge, is available in bookstores and online. The publisher’s website includes an excerpt.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.